The Astromaid Chronicles

Slow Travel, Creative Living, and Speculation

Tag: cultural observations (page 1 of 3)

Ancient Cures, Modern Teas: Cinchona Bark

First of all, Merry Christmas to you all! I hope everyone is having a warm, snuggly day with family and/or friends and/or laying in a food coma on the couch and/or flinging around all sorts of exciting gifts!! At the time of this posting, Jorge and I are CLIMBING MACCHU PICCHU — but more to come on that in the coming days, of course. This is surely one of the most alternative Christmases I’ve had so far!

I’m writing more about the interesting native plants of the Peruvian Amazon Rain Forest area this week. Like I mentioned in my last post, there is a huge variety of interesting and USEFUL native herbs here, and they’re used for everything from ovarian cysts to digestive disorders to cancer.

Last week, Jorge brought home something strange from the market. It looked like this:

Cinchona.

If you’re thinking “wow, this looks a lot like mossy tree bark”, you’re totally right. This is Cinchona, also known as Peruvian tree bark. It was sold exactly as this — a harvested fragment of tree bark about a foot long, sticky to the touch and fragrant like the rain forest. 
Jorge had been instructed at the market to “take a small piece” and make a tea with it. It helps with infections and digestion, he was told. Decent enough properties to warrant a splurge purchase, in my book.
So he came back from the market with bags of vegetables, handfuls of herbs and a hunk of bark. Imagine my surprise as he slowly unloaded his backpack. Only in Peru, I suppose!
The tree bark sat around for about a week, forgotten. And then, this morning, I woke up wanting something warm. Rainy season has begun in Cusco, and I’ve been feeling especially cold recently. Since I’m still on a no-coffee whirl, I thought I’d make a cup of tea to warm my hands for the morning. 
And then I remembered the tree bark.
I brought it out carefully, sniffing it, poking it, wondering what exactly constituted “a small piece”. I know herbal remedies often carry a hefty “warning” label, so I wanted to investigate before I gambled on ‘a small piece’ only to find myself later in a near overdose state.
Off to google, then! 
Lots of interesting benefits and properties came up about cinchona. Here’s just a little rundown:
  • promotes digestion (gosh, what herb DOESN’T?)
  • eases muscle cramps
  • kills bacteria and fungi
  • relieves pain
  • helps with hemorrhoids and varicose veins 
  • regulates heartbeat
  • and…perhaps the most important benefit of cinchona…IT CURES MALARIA!
That’s right. Cinchona contains quinine, which is the active ingredient of malaria medication. One of the most important discoveries in the rain forest, it’s been used since TIME ETERNAL to cure malaria. When the Europeans arrived in the 1600’s, they found out about this usage and began to export this ‘wonder cure’ back to their homeland. 
As you can see above, the uses for this bark extend way beyond curing malaria, and that’s not even half of the ways it’s been utilized throughout the centuries. 
Read more about Peruvian Tree Bark here and here

And if this stuff isn’t already in your local health food store, ask for it! Though they might want to ask for the more easily-transportable powder form. I’m not too sure they’ll be able to receive the literal hunk of bark I showed above!

The bounty of the rain forest is simply ASTOUNDING to me. The sheer variety of medicinal plants is both awe-inspiring and a huge relief. Mother Nature provides for us in so many ways, and I’m sure there are even more discoveries to be made about what else is out there to help heal us.


If you’re interested, you can find cinchona here in powder form (and not the sticky, mossy, piece of literal jungle bark in your kitchen, like SOME of us have!).

Ancient Cures, Modern Teas: Herbs in Peru

It’s no secret that Peru is full of shamans, particularly in the Amazonian regions. People who have, for centuries if not thousands of years, guarded ancient secrets about the medicinal plants springing from this ultra-fertile land of healing.

Whether or not you believe in the healing power of shamans, there’s a lot of information out there about the effects of these native plants.

Peruvian plants constitute a huge portion of the ‘natural healing’ market. And a quick browse through the dry tea section at ANY supermarket in Cusco offers a staggering array of options. Cat’s claw, Hercampuri, Manayupa, Horse’s Tail, Hierba Luisa, even the famous coca (the plant that cocaine is derived from).

Coca tea. But don’t let the association scare you. Coca
tea has awesome benefits, even if it tastes exactly like grass.

That’s just scratching the surface.

I became interested in Peruvian herbals when I was at the market one day and thought, Hm, let’s try a new tea. As I scanned each option and read the packaging about their intended uses, my jaw dropped lower and lower to the ground.

These teas help digestion. Altitude sickness (HELPFUL in these parts!). Urinary problems. Cysts. Kidney stones. Prostate function. And sometimes, they’re touted to cure CANCER.

Impressive.

I started to buy these teas. To see what they were like mostly; not for any overarching prostate or cancer problems, don’t worry. I figured that in this land of exquisite bio-diversity and ancient healing practices involving so many plants, I have to give these teas a whirl. Exportation of plant life from Peru is a little iffy sometimes, so who knows when I might have this chance again?

I went home with a pleasing variety of teas. Some were loose leaf; others in tea bags. Throughout the past few weeks, I’ve been trying these on occasion. Sometimes in conjunction with actual needs — like maybe my digestion could use a sprucing up — but most times just to replace my beloved coffee, which I have given up for a period of time.

Ahh, Peruvian teas! You harbinger of healing! You ancient window of wisdom! I drank them eagerly.

But the taste? Let me give you the executive summary: MOST TASTE LIKE ASS.

Manayupa is the one that has been the LEAST offensive to me so far. The package of my loose-leaf Manayupa herbs says, “Plant of the Andean Peruvians. Its name comes from the Quechua vocabulary “ranamanayupana” which means something like, ‘the qualities are so numerous that man cannot count them‘.”

I drink this one a lot. It’s great. It is helping me in ways that man cannot even count.

Hierba Luisa is also great. It’s used, as most teas are, for digestive issues, but this herb also helps bad breath, and to control insomnia and stress.

And according to this picture, scrubbing your teeth with
the leaves helps prevent cavities. The benefits never stop.

I’ll admit that my problem revolves around memory. I’ll fill a cup to steep, get involved in something else, and remember a half hour later that I had made a tea. (God, who DOESN’T have this problem?!) Everyone knows that over-steeping leads to bitterness. But with most regular teas, over-steeping isn’t a deal breaker.

Well, over-steeping Peruvian teas is a BIG no-no I’ve come to find out. I just had some over-steeped Agracejo with Alcachofa, which is used for upset stomachs, liver inflammation and gallbladder problems. It’s also helpful for detoxing (which is why I thought to buy it), and the tea contains various vitamins, proteins, and minerals. SCORE!

I made the mistake of taking an enormous gulp of my then-tepid Agracejo tea. PANIC! It tasted awful, but I forced it down anyway. I didn’t recover for a full ten minutes from that first try. And I did try to remind myself of all those vitamins, minerals and proteins I was ingesting. Somehow, it didn’t help.

Hercampuri has to be my least favorite of all the teas I’ve had. I came to it when I was in need of a digestive reset after a particular weirdness in the ol’ intestines. My digestion WAS reset — but at the cost of extremely bitter and earthy tea. And that time, it WASN’T because I over-steeped.

Hercampuri. You’re so beautiful, and such
a bitch to drink. [Photo: www.lamolina.net]

Peruvians are very proud of their natural medicines and long lineage of plant knowledge. I would be too, if I had such a cultural heritage. I’ve met plenty of Peruvians who refuse medication, and rely on herbs to cure any variety of illness and ailment.

That’s been my game plan here, too. Luckily I haven’t had any real ailments to cure, but when the time comes, I feel confident that the ancient wisdom of the Andean Peruvians will help guide me to wellness. And in the meantime, my gallbladder/kidneys/ovaries/intestines/liver/blood are going to mighty well taken care of.

Bolivian Blockades: Part One

A Spanish friend of ours who recently traveled through Bolivia said the following about his experience there: “Bolivia is a good country if you want to put your patience to the test. What you are told will happen rarely does; improvisation is your first friend of the day. The good part for us was that you can eat for 1 euro, and you can sleep two people for 5 euros. ”

After roughly 8 days in Bolivia, I have to say, truer words have never been spoken.

From the botched entry visa to the last moments spent in that country, the whole experience was a constant exercise in creative adaptation…and cheap as hell everything.

I don’t want to imply that we had a bad time there; not at all. Bolivia rocked our respective worlds — the people were friendly, the food was tasty, the landscape was breathtaking, the cities were historic and interesting, there was a profound and fascinating past, and so much more.

But there was a definitive lack of structure in a lot of ways. A visit to any restaurant, in a variety of cities, invariably produced the following experience:

SHANNON or JORGE: I’ll have the gnocchi.
WAITER: Oh, we’re out of that.
S or J: Okay, uh…*looks through the menu quickly* How about the vegetarian lasagna?
WAITER: No, we don’t have that either.
Repeat for up to five menu items until you finally hit an item that is available and/or the waiter kindly informs you what fourth of the menu is actually capable of being produced.
This sudden and unexpected unavailability of something tended to be the norm for Bolivia. All the way down to regular transportation.

We had planned to arrive to Uyuni, the city nearest to the salt flats, during the day Thursday. But our bus that morning was inexplicably cancelled due to a bloqueo, a blockade. They told us we’d leave that night at 8:30PM.

So we called the terminal in advance of making the full 20 minute cab ride with the bags, confirmed the bus was in fact leaving, and showed up for the 8 hour bus ride to Uyuni. We departed on time, all things normal. Excellent.

Around 4:20 AM, our bus came to a stop. Jorge and I stirred to life, partially frozen from the cold night in the bus (Bolivian buses don’t tend to have any sort of heat or air movement). The bus had come to a shuddering stop. Not just casually idling on the side of the road, but OFF. And in the middle of nowhere.

We were informed that the blockade was still, in fact, in effect. We were totally unable to drive further. And we were about 4 miles from Uyuni.

What to do? Grumbles, complaints, fears, ideas, and plans began filling the chilly air of the bus. Bolivians familiar with this phenomenon informed the rest of us what was up: These blockades were serious. Creeping past was not an option. It was unlikely the blockade would lift by tomorrow. We would have to walk to town.
We, and a majority of passengers, decided to stay in the bus until daybreak. That way, we could complete the journey on foot with at least a modicum of daylight to guide us. From my bus window, the lights of Uyuni burned bright but distant, tiny flickers of life just beyond reach.
Around 5:30 AM, Jorge and I suited up and headed out. The new day was clear and bright — and terribly cold. For reference, the salt flats sit at about 3,000m above sea level — that’s about 12,000 ft. And on top of that, it’s winter down here. It felt like Ohio on an early February morning.
Good morning, Uyuni! Lovely way to start the day.

Jorge and I trudged along, finally passing the blockade itself. The road was littered with rocks of varying sizes, from pebbles to boulders. We didn’t say anything as we passed the protesters themselves, who sat in a group around a fire at the side of the road, the Bolivian flag waving gently in the morning breeze.

After about 20 minutes of walking, Uyuni looked no closer but we had certainly traveled far. However, we didn’t pack for real backpacking. Our belongings are ample and heavy. We packed up a whole life in Chile, and aren’t traveling as light as other backpackers who are just on a little vacation. Certainly not equipped to be walking miles with my luggage. Just as we were about to collapse and rest a bit, a truck rumbled past. Jorge stuck out his thumb. The truck stopped.

The saviors took us into town, mercifully dropping us off right outside the center where all the tour agencies and hostels are found. I think the guy was a relative of someone on the bus, who had been summoned to pick her up, and just happened to see us withering on the side of the road.
Uyuni, the morning we arrived. The cars blocking the road
in the distance are part of the protest, too. 

Fast forward to our tour through the salt flats. We took a roundabout way out of the city due to the blockades. Someone mentioned the regular route out of town was now similarly covered in boulders and armed with protesters waiting for people to attempt to pass. We didn’t think much of it, just enjoyed the bumpy road and craggy mountains in the distance. Everything seemed to be continuing as normal despite the blockades and protesters.

On our way back from the salt flats tours, around 7pm, our Jeep shuddered to a stop. The other Jeeps we’d been traveling with similarly turn off and go dark. Our driver disappears, rushing to the other drivers. They stand there talking for 15 minutes. Finally, he comes back to us and says,

“The protesters are blocking our road back into the city,” he explains. “The one we took this morning can’t be taken again. We are going to wait to see if they go away.”

But they didn’t go away. And as time wore on, and the night grew darker and colder, our driver and the others decided to risk it.

With lights off and driving in a tight single-file line, our 5 Jeeps attempted to circumvent the protestors. Unable to see us, the plan was that we were swing wide around them, and gun it into the city.

I didn’t know where to watch. I was horrified by the proximity of the Jeep in front of us, how murikly dark it was, how dangerously close we sometimes came to it as our driver struggled to stay connected to the line and look out for protestors. In the distance, we saw the wide sweep of headlights. Protesters looking for people just like us: trying to escape into the city.

 The inevitable came: we were spotted. Those sweeping headlights suddenly focused only on us. Our driver turned wide, executing a 180, and we began running from the car. We lost all of the other Jeeps we’d been following. We were on our own.

The protesters following us got distracted, maybe they decided to pursue someone else. Their goal was to prevent us from entering the city, and to do so they pelted trespassers with rocks. We knew our lives weren’t necessarily in danger…but we didn’t want an errant rock through the window, either.

Our driver doubled back and, flying solo now, began creeping along the far side of the field. All of us in the Jeep scoured the countryside, looking for protesters that might have spotted us. So far, so good. All clear. We continued on.

To our far left was the burning bonfire marking the protesters and the beginning of the blockade. We saw groups of people milling around; the road full of boulders.

And then, we saw three pairs of headlights following us.

We’d been spotted again, and this time, we had two motorcycles and a car racing after us. Our driver gunned it — we were in the city limits now, no turning back — and in the distance we could hear the accelerating whine of the motorcycles pursuing us.

This was no easy escape for our driver. Pitch blackness plus a very jagged, bumpy road, littered with bushes and dips. A few minutes once we’d driven past the protesters, he flicked on the lights. We drove in incredibly tense silence, all passengers craning to see if anyone would catch up with us. What would happen if they did? Would they make us stop, circle around us, throw a rock through the window? Or would it go even further? The driver made mention of the campesinos getting drunk and macho, liking to push the protest further at night. Would they force us to walk back into town? Or maybe they’d take all our stuff first?

Nobody knew the answers; nobody dared ask.

Finally, Uyuni grew nearer. We pealed into a side road. No headlights were following us.

We breathed a sigh of relief; and by the time our driver had parked in front of the tour agency, we were lauding him with applause and claps on the back.

Stop One in Mendoza…and Chilean Cuisine Comments

This is my third visit to Mendoza and the third time I haven’t gone to a bodega.

This is unacceptable for a variety of reasons. First of all, Mendoza isn’t just wine country, it’s MALBEC WINE COUNTRY. For anyone with a set of tastebuds and eyeballs, you’ll know that Malbec is lovely and that I prefer drinking this over almost anything else in the world. Furthermore, I’ve had three chances to get my ass to a vineyard and spend my day lazily tasting wines and gazing out over the grapes. Have I done this? No. Why not? I have no idea. Maybe next time.

This visit to Mendoza has been very pleasing and lovely for other reasons. We’re going to be here about a week in total and in this week I have tried more typical Argentine dishes than Chilean dishes in my whole year and a half in Chile.

Seriously.

Some of you may already know my thoughts on Chilean cuisine (see tag: Hey Chile, you could use a little more salt), but this isn’t just a personal palatte issue, or even a personal vendetta. It’s a fact: Chilean Cuisine is notably sparse.

Typical Chilean dishes are as follows: Completos (Hot dogs piled with avocado, mayonnaise, and tomato in what resembles a veritable condiment boat), Curanto (a big stew of meat, chicken, and seafood), Chorillana (French Fries, fried egg, hot dog, and caramelized onions, all mixed together. Great hangover food. Also great heart attack food), Empanadas (think of an overgrown hot pocket from scratch, with a variety of vegetable/meat/seafood and cheese fillings).

This is Chorillana. No joke, it’s the bomb.

Also: seafood in general, because of the access to the sea.

That constitutes la cocina chilena.  And it took me the full year and a half and plenty of interrogation to get the real scoop on Chilean cuisine. It’s just…not their strong suit.

But here in Argentina?

I get to Argentina and take a bite of bread and there is a shuddering wave of contentment.  I think to myself, “Yes. This is what BREAD tastes like!” And the butter is tastier. And the asados….don’t get me started.

In this one week in Mendoza I’ve had two traditionally Argentinian homemade dishes.

The first one was pastel de papa (potato pie). Our friends Sergio and Sandra made this dish with Sandra’s 1st-generation Italian immigrant grandmother, and watching the process alone convinced me that this was already my favorite dish without even having tried it.

Pastel de papa…POTATO PIE. This is my personal portion, right?!

Thin layer of flimsy dough. Slather on a nice layer of mashed potatoes, add a layer of “picadillo”, which is essentially ground beef and onions and picante and tomato mixed together. Then a layer of cheese; another layer of mashed potatoes; and then final layer of thin flimsy dough. The dough is pinched shut at the perimeter, coated with a whisked egg glaze, and then it bakes for 30 minutes.

And then you put it in your mouth and the heavens open and angels shriek and things rain from the sky.

The next dish I had the extreme pleasure of trying for the first time this visit was locro de choclo. Hell if I know what this means in English, except that choclo means corn, and this was certainly a corn-based dish.

I was able to witness some of the cooking process and it seemed that corn boiled for three hours and then suddenly onions were cooking and it was ready. I think I missed part of this process.

Whatever you are, I want more of you.

At any rate, what ends up in front of your face at the lunch table is a steaming bowl of (let’s say) corn soup, with a nice variety of condiments, a dollop of homemade tomato sauce with caramelized onions, and a couple variety of squash or potatoes mixed in. Two or three cubes of a creamy cheese are added, you wait until it no longer scorches the top layer of skin from inside your mouth, and then you shovel that down your throat.

Sopped up at the end, of course, with homemade Argentinian bread.

*kicks leg in the air* YES!

The first time I came to Argentina, I was able to have a few first-timers then: if we’ll recall Jorge’s family greeting us with lamb, and then the crowd favorite milanesa, breaded meat fried to perfection. To be fair, milanesa exists in all countries to some degree (except in Chile). In Mexico, my mama used to make this for me almost on the daily, with a nice side of mashed potatoes. In the USA, it’s consumed under the name country fried steak, also with mashed potatoes.

I don’t know what it is about Chilean food. There are, of course, extremely tasty options available, but mostly in fine ass restaurants with a strong outside influence (as in, the owner studied cooking in France). Desserts in Chile were always pretty disappointing, as well. I don’t know what the problem is. Lack of sweet? Lack of salt? Or lack of full-bodied flavor in general in the ingredients?

We can probably boil the debate down to this: when I first got to Chile, it took me approximately one year to come to terms with the fact that the butter sucked.

I’m talking like, the regular supermarket nice brand. Not the cheap crappy supermarket brand.

After a year there, I found the artesenal butter, made in the countryside of Patagonia, and yeah, that butter was great, and distinct.

But there is something lacking in the majority of Chilean food. It has to go back to what the animals are eating, and any Argentinian will regale you for hours about the superior feeding process of their cows and pigs that allow that award-winning reputation to flourish. Chile doesn’t have bad meat by any means, but there is something under the surface that is missing, and I can’t put my finger on it.

Here is an Argentinian carrying a pile of Argentinian meat. The debate rages over which country does it better.

If it doesn’t come from Patagonia/the general south, if it hasn’t had exposure to outside influences, or if you don’t make it yourself…it’s probably going to be bland.

I’m sorry, Chile. I love you, we’ve had great times.

But you could use a little more damn salt.

Fire Clean-up in Valparaiso

You know what I’ve been sucking at doing lately? UPDATING THIS BLOG.

I apologize folks, especially to those of you who were waiting with bated breath to see via my blog that I had survived the recent fire in Valparaiso.

OK, that was nobody at all, but in case there was any doubt, I’M ALIVE. But here’s the scoop: the fire broke out on April 12th due to a wild fire in the brushy areas at the top part of a hill. Around that date, we had been experiencing some extremely fierce winds for just a couple days or so. This fire, with that wind, quickly spread and began to engulf houses.

The houses up in those parts, however, are some of the poorest. Lacking access to water, there was no way for firefighters to connect to fight the flames, but that was only when the trucks could get up there.

Strong winds. Densely packed houses made of wood. A terribly hungry fire.

I snapped this photo of the fire on Saturday night. Haunting, eerie glow from the flames. We counted 8 focal points.

 

It raged until Monday, recruiting not only every fire fighter in the city of Valparaiso (who, I should add, are all volunteer firefighters), but also helicopters and airplanes dumping water from above from both Chile and Argentina.

All told, over 12,500 people have been affected by this fire which, according to anyone you ask here, is by far the worst fire to ever hit Valparaiso.

And while it affected several of the 42 hills here, the effects have been felt by everyone. The entire night of Saturday and the whole day of Sunday saw a steady stream of ash raining onto houses throughout the city, including our patio. Any visit to the city center on those days felt similar to a post-apocalyptic movie scene. On Sunday, we saw the inky cloud of the fire drifting toward sea against the brilliantly clear blue sky.

Looking at the fire from Avenida Argentina

 

It has been a very painful and heartbreaking event to witness. Even though I am a foreigner, even though my house and hill were not affected, I consider Valparaiso my home. Watching the scene on Sunday brought tears to my eyes multiple times as I saw families fleeing the hills, all their belongings in duffel bags, as they sought refuge and the inevitable wait to find out just how much of everything they would lose.

Some people didn’t have time to pack. And others didn’t even have time to get out. This fire claimed the lives of 15 people.

Through the time since the fire, Jorge and I have been donating money, time, and possessions. We donated every extra bit of everything in this vagabond house last Sunday. Every time we go to a particular part of the center, we donate cleaning supplies to one of the many shelters set up for the people who lost their homes. And last Friday we went up into the hills with a friend to shovel out rubble from properties.

We went higher up into the hills than I’ve ever been before. I’ve never seen Valpo from these angles.

 

Assessing the damage.

 

Helping to dig out the burnt remains of a man’s house.

 

We didn’t know him, we just found them and offered to help.

I’m no delicate flower but I’m also not a burly woodsman. The shoveling was back breaking work. We were at it for three hours and my body hurt for days, not to mention the two shiny blisters I got from the shoveling. We made real progress there at the man’s house, starting with a deep, drifting pile of ash, dust, dirt, and broken remains of his belongings. By the time we left, we had hit the earthen floor of what used to be his kitchen. The ash entered our eyes and mouths despite the face masks and sunglasses. There was no way to escape it.

Participating in the volunteer efforts and being around to see the ways in which Valparaiso has responded to this crisis has been uplifting and wholly inspiring. The city has come together in the truest sense of the word. People sprang into action from day one, and thank god, because there are so many victims of this fire.

And not just people victims either. Here’s an area for wounded strays — they were adopting them out once they’d been cleaned and treated.

 

 

Jorge and I after shoveling rubble last Friday. We found soot in our nostrils and ears for at least the next two days.

 

Just seeing the solidarity of the portenos each and every time I leave my house is such an insanely beautiful sight. When we went on Friday, there was no lack of support among volunteers. It didn’t matter where we were from, who we were with: we were there to help. Formalities weren’t exchanged, only directions toward where to help and gentle questions of whether we needed water or food. Water was passed around freely as we worked, mandarin oranges and then actual packed lunches handed out by some lady, who knows where she came from or who she was with, just one of the many angels of the relief efforts.

By last Friday, reconstruction had already begun for some people. This is an effort that will continue for quite a long time. Thankfully, there are so many people to help, and so many individuals and companies alike that are giving time, money and efforts to help those affected by the catastrophe.

Valpo won’t only be fine, it will be stronger and better.

FUERZA VALPO!

Greenwich Vs. Candelaria

I know I already wrote about Candelaria, the tiny pueblito from whence my boyfriend comes, but there’s more to be said. For this round of Contemplations On My Boyfriend’s Hometown, I’m going to compare Candelaria, Argentina to Greenwich, Ohio (the village where my mother and the family were raised).
It deserves this extra post because when I went there, I was intrigued by how similar the place feltto the hometown of my mother, aunts and uncle. The more I got to know the city, the more weird similarities I found.  And then when I started researching deeper, the similarities multiplied like single-celled organisms and this blog post was born (or perhaps spawned spontaneously).
Population Background: Candelaria’s population according to Jorge is around 3,000 people. Greenwich’s population estimate for 2012 was around 1,500. City-Data.com calls Greenwich “100% rural”. Interestingly, City-Data.com has nothing to say about Candelaria.
CANDELARIA!

GREENWICH!
Realtime Family Background: All of Jorge’s family was raised on the outskirts of Candelaria (not even seen in the map). Jorge is the youngest child and was the first child to be born to electricity in the house in 1986. Three out of his five siblings continue to live and raise families in ‘downtown’ Candelaria (two left for the capital city). Of the four children my grandparents raised in Greenwich, all left to pursue families and careers in other cities and states. All of them were born to electricity in the household throughout the 60’s and 70’s.
Other Facts: Candelaria (in the state of Ayacucho) was founded in 1870; Greenwich’s first settler arrived in 1817 but it was formally incorporated in 1879. 
Now let’s get to the good stuff…

Valley Beach vs. El Muro: Looking for a fun summertime spot to while away the blistering Ohio/Argentinian peak weather? Valley Beach sits about 15 minutes outside Greenwich in a city called Norwalk, Ohio; and about a 15 minute drive outside of Candelaria sits El Muro (in English, “the wall”) in Quines, Argentina. Both are dedicated to daytime grilling, summer passage of moments and cooling off in bodies of water. Valley Beach features grills scattered along the landscape, while El Muro has one dedicated asado center which looks more like a mausoleum. Valley Beach is flanked by deciduous forests, and has cement pools with an exciting array of diving boards, slides and ancient ropes for swinging into said bodies of water. 
Valley Beach: Whoo Hoo, Childhood!

El Muro, however, is flanked by the unimpressed and unmoving  face of the Sierra (Andes mountains); bathing options include natural rivers and inlets that end in a waterfall that apparently everyone knows not to go over (lifeguard usage is unknown). Editor’s Note: El Muro would be expressly forbidden if it were in America.

Totally fine and permissible unsupervised waterfall area
at El Muro in Quines, AR.

Another view of El Muro — truly a spectacular daytime hangout.
Mausoleum-style asado area not featured here.

The Green Witch vs. La Heladeria: Need a spot to cool off, sit down and eat some damn ice cream? Both countries got this one. The Green Witch in Greenwich kills two birds with one stone, allowing patrons to both buy ice cream AND wash all those sweaty summer undergarments at the attached Laundromat. 
Best dang Oreo Flurries in the land.
Not so sure about that peach shake, though. 
Or whether it doubles as laundry detergent.
In Candelaria, the local Heladeria offers no such multi-tasking efficiency, and their tasty treats have nothing on the Green Witch’s exciting array of both hot and cold consumables (note: does not include the laundry detergent next door). La Heladeria only offers about 10 flavors of ice cream. Both establishments are run by the daughter of someone your grandparents are close to, and both maintain that weary air of one regretful owner trapped in a small, dark room amongst the whirring machines in the peak of summer.
Well, it’s better than nothing, I guess.
In true first-world problem style, it looks like you’ll have to
wash your sweat-encrusted unmentionables outside of the establishment.
Soy Vs. Soja:  Candelaria’s list of growables (and whatnot) includes: berries, watermelon, wheat, soy, corn and potato. The town also has a startling amount of sheep, cows, horses, goats, and chickens.  Jorge’s family alone deals with the majority of these items. Most of the people operating these farms and businesses are recently immigrated Italians or purebred Argentinians (which means, of course, partially Italian, and prone to excessive gesturing and consumption of Fernet).  
Farmland in Candelaria, Argentina.
In Greenwich, the production is mostly the same—soy, wheat, corn, hogs, chicken, and dairy operations. The majority of the farms fall outside of the village limits, and are run by one of two camps: the Mennonites, or the Children of People Your Grandparents Taught.  
The sprawling farmlands of Ohio.
Siesta Vs. The Food Coma: Americans don’t participate in the siesta (basically translates to “socially acceptable adult nap time”) on a cultural level but for a couple times a year: July 4th, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Shannon, what the hell are you talking about, you might be asking. I’ve never taken a siesta in my life. But you have, my dear American friends! The American Food Coma is the closest approximation we have to the siesta. And I point out July 4th, Thanksgiving and Christmas as the most definable moments of when you overeat yourself into a coma and then crash on grandma’s couch for a couple hours afterward. And in Greenwich this occurs without fail, especially for July 4th celebrations and that ridiculous amount of GMZ Deviled Eggs/Potato Salad/Anything Fried from the Downtown Festival.
The Siesta in Latin America falls between 3 to 5pm (give or take), and occurs after lunch—right when you were getting sleepy anyway. This works out in Candelaria because that time of the day is also the hottest – and we’re talking a heat where even if you wanted to do something, you couldn’t. Air conditioning is not utilized. Add onto that the ridiculous amount of rural, home-cooked Argentinian food, plus red wine (BECAUSE IT’S ARGENTINA), and, well…you’re looking at waking up in the early evening with a thick layer of sweat and a desperate need for a shower.
America Smalltown vs. Argentina Smalltown: Both towns in question feature population’s small enough to allow easy face recognition for anyone that passes by, along with at least one juicy bit of common knowledge family history. Whenever I call to the local floral shop to order surprise flowers for my grandparents for a variety of occasions, I only need to say the first fifth of the address before they exclaim, “Oh, you must be the granddaughter of…!” And while the residents of Candelaria might remember me for awhile due to the fact that I am gringa and have dreadlocks,  I heard plenty of similar exclamations amongst locals while I was there: “Oh, you’re the second cousin of…!” And as in much of smalltown America, in Candelaria as well the weather is the first topic of conversation – always.
Another big difference?
Greenwich and Candelaria hit summer at opposite times of the year.
January 14th: high/low in Candelaria: 96F/67F, winds N, sunrise 6:31AM, sunset 8:32PM.
January 14th: high/low in Greenwich: 42F/24F, winds SSW, sunrise 7:53AM, sunset 5:26PM.
Sources:

and REAL LIFE, MAN. 

Signs of Change

There comes a point in life when you look around and you realize little things have changed despite your best efforts.

I won’t lie, when I started dating the Argentinian Jorge, I wasn’t too keen on learning Argentinian Spanish or adopting his customs. I don’t know why — it just wasn’t on my agenda. I had come to Chile and that felt to be enough of a cultural endeavor.

Eating lunch at 4 or 5 pm? Dinner at 10? Drinking mate (pronounced MAH-tay) instead of coffee? Bread and/or mayonnaise with every meal? WTF with ‘vos’ and ‘desis’? Sorry, the correct terminology is “tu” and “dices”. Thanks. 

Both of us being ex-pats in Chile, it hasn’t been too hard to concentrate on learning Chilean culture and Spanish instead of Argentinian. I at least have an excuse to resist mate, I figured.

But then comes the day-in and day-out. There’s the fact that the person I hear and speak to most is Jorge, and no matter how hard I wish it otherwise, he will never use the tu form when he speaks. There’s the fact that when he gets excited, upset, impassioned or irritated, his Italian-influenced Spanish starts flooding out, and I understand even less of what he’s saying (when I’m not giggling). There’s the fact that he takes me to his country to meet his entire sprawling Argentinian family, and we spend lazy afternoons sharing mate and getting to know one another and I begin to understand the real meaning of taking mate.

It’s the end of the year so I’m looking around at my life, taking stock of where I am and what I’m doing, asking myself if I want to keep doing this or maybe take another leap. Asking myself hard questions (Do I like what I’m doing? Do I feel healthy? Am I happy?), looking at other areas (a move to Ecuador? What about Columbia? Costa Rica?), thinking about other lifestyles I might want to explore.

And while the swirl of questions continues dense like a cloud around my head, I look around my immediate area — my desk, my plethora of pens, the journals, the craft supplies that I always give away but continue to follow me and accumulate no matter what country I’m in — and I notice something suspicious.

This is mate. My very own mate.
As in, I own this mate set.

I’m drinking mate, by myself, and I might not have even made coffee this morning.
And maybe some mornings I wake up and prefer mate over coffee.
And maybe sometimes I look at Jorge and in my head I use ‘vos’ (though I would never say it to his face). (Yet.)
And maybe yesterday I slathered mayo all over toasted bread and then ate it. Happily.
And pretty much every day I eat lunch after 2pm. 
And when I get excited, upset, impassioned or irritated with Jorge, I find his same Italian-Spanish mannerisms and expressions slipping out.
When did all of this happen???
2013 brought a lot of unexpected lessons, changes, cycles and more. It has been, by far, the best year of my life. If I can end the year thinking ‘vos’ and drinking mate over coffee, then anything is possible. 2014 is on the cusp of existence and I couldn’t be more excited for what lay ahead. I lift my mate to you all as we close up this lovely year and embark upon new journeys.
Salud!
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